Ligon Duncan and Sam Storms on Empowering Singles in the Church

Ligon Duncan and Sam Storms discuss how singles can can serve in the church and whether a single man should serve as an elder.


Below is a lightly edited transcript of the video above. Before quoting, please check the video to ensure accuracy.

Sam Storms:

Ligon, it’s good to be with you today. Here’s the question that I want to pose to you. As you know, most of church life is built around families. As preachers, you and I, when we tell stories or give illustrations, it’s usually related to something having to do with a spouse or a child. And singles oftentimes feel marginalized, they feel like misfits in the local church.

And they sometimes wonder what role do I have? Do I have any value here? So help me understand what can the local church do to identify, encourage and bring singles, the unmarried into the life of the body in a more vibrant way? And how can we as pastors and leaders communicate to them in such a way that they feel their true identity in Christ even though they lack a spouse and they lack children?

Ligon Duncan:

I think one thing is to, is for the church to view itself as a family not just a group of families, natural families that have come together but as a family as a whole. And the family needs every member of the family or to switch to the other New Testament metaphor, the church is a body and we need all the parts of the body.

And so if you’re in a setting where it’s not just married couples that are valued but the whole church family and we need all members of those families, single as well as married serving together in order to do all the things that we’re capable of doing together that we can’t do by ourselves, then you’ve got an attitude where families, they’re on the lookout for including single people in their family life and leadership is on the lookout for both singles and marrieds to be involved in the ministry of the church.

So that’s one thing, it’s just we have an attitude where we’re trying to include. The first decade and a half of my ministry I was a single man and I must say I had wonderful experiences in the local church both at the level of interrelating with families who very kindly brought me into the circle of it, invited me into their homes for meals, included me in family activities, never pressured me to be anything other than faithful to the Lord as a single man but included me in family life and then church leadership that included me in ministry in the church.

I had very happy experiences but like you just said, I know a lot of places where singles do feel marginalized and left out and overlooked. And singles face unique challenges and frustrations as they serve in the local church and as they live in the world. And so I think if a church is on the lookout to include everybody in the church family, everybody in the body and to maximize everybody’s life in ministry not just married folk, then that’s one thing that helps us get at this particular question.

Now, you know, as to the question, can single people take leadership in ministry? That’s a different thing. And, you know, I look to people like John Stott who was single his whole life who clearly had all the marks that you would be looking for in an elder and probably had wisdom about family things that I don’t have as a husband and a father.

I think you just have to look at who has the gifting in that area and who has the character and the other qualifications that you’re looking for in an elder as you’re making that decision. How do you handle that in your own church, Sam?

Sam Storms:

All my elders, we have 12 elders at Bridgeway and they’re all married but we would not at all be opposed to a single man.

I don’t believe the New Testament precludes that possibility given the fact that, you know, I would hope that Paul would be a qualified man to serve on our elder board. You know, people point to he must manage his own household well, but I think that’s on the assumption, obviously that he’s married, you know, he says he must be a one-woman man. Well, that’s just simply saying that if you have a woman you need to be faithful to her, you need to be loyal and not giving your affections to another.

So we would be open to having a single man on our leadership. And we’ve got several qualified single men in the church who very likely in the future the Spirit of God might raise up to serve in that capacity. I think one thing, I’ll just bring this to a close before another comment just for pastors and others, I think we need to learn how to celebrate singles.

You think about it, we celebrate wedding anniversaries, we give baby showers, we have Mother’s Day, we have Father’s Day, where do we ever set aside time to acknowledge people whom God may not have it in his purpose for them to be married? And that’s not falling short of an ideal, that may be God’s unique calling on their life to live that undistracted commitment to the Kingdom of God.

So I think it’s important to start thinking conscientiously, proactively, how can we celebrate those who are single and acknowledge their accomplishments, whether it’s graduation or promotions at work or other things that are unique to their experience.